Why do children lash out?
Hitting, kicking and shouting can be an attempt to work through emotions or get adults’ attention. Research shows that children who are habitually aggressive – and whose behaviour is not dealt with – are more likely to display antisocial or even criminal tendencies in adulthood. Whatever their age, your children need to know that aggressive behaviour is not acceptable.
‘Being assertive, firm, calm and consistent is the key,’ says clinical psychologist Dr Elizabeth Dark, who works for Lyn Fry Associates, a consultancy that helps parents build good relationships with their children by following the Government-endorsed Triple P Positive Parenting Programme. She recommends the following tips for dealing with an aggressive child:
Aggressive behaviour that is ignored or accidentally rewarded (by your attention) will continue and will probably get worse as the child gets older.
Monitor your child’s behaviour
Once you know what triggers his aggression and what he’s achieving by it, you should be able to work out which areas to focus on for change.
Set a good example
Model considerate and calm behaviour at home, so your children can see how well it works. You could also talk to them about how you manage when you are angry or upset (such as going for a walk or counting backwards from 10).
Seek expert advice
Consider taking children aged six or over to see a psychologist to learn some coping strategies.
In some cases, a psychological disorder can cause aggression. If your child is frequently aggressive and displays other odd, defiant or harmful behaviour towards people, animals or property, seek help from a professional.
Make the rules
Have a clear, positively phrased house rule, such as: ‘We keep our hands and feet to ourselves,’. Talk to your children about why you need this rule and why we shouldn’t be aggressive (eg, it hurts and upsets other people).
Praise appropriate behaviour
When your children are friendly and calm, give them lots of specific praise, such as ‘I like the way you just shared nicely with your brother’.
Tackle aggression swiftly
Tell your child to stop and explain what you want him to do instead: ‘Stop hitting Ben, keep your hands and feet to yourself’. If your child stops, praise him. If he doesn’t, apply an immediate but short-term consequence.